Author Archives: Anne-Fay

Slumming It

The Atlantic Cities on London’s re-emergent ‘sheds with beds’.

We recently contributed to Feargus O’Sullivan’s piece in The Atlantic Cities, about the return of slum living to London. David Cameron’s Middle-England-vote-catching proposal to relax planning laws (UPDATE: currently under parliamentary review) may only exacerbate the issue. Here’s an excerpt:

All over London, so-called sheds with beds have been cropping up like toadstools, presented to planning authorities as family home extensions but then surreptitiously rented out to strangers. Many of these are poky warrens let out to the desperate, part of the growing number of Londoners who have lost hope of gaining social housing and are forced to make do with whatever they can get. The government has vowed to tear down these new shanties, with UK housing minister Grant Shapps and some press cameras even joining in a raid on one. It is unlikely that they would be such a problem, however, if the government hadn’t cut funding for social housing by 50 percent, pushing poor renters into the private sector.

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Denialism

How the media seems to be denying a truth about the media.

This weekend The Guardian ran a story about Breaking Bad, the hit US series which is into its 4th season on US network television but which has yet to be picked up by a big network here in the UK. The reasons for this anomaly — as was the case with now-legendary TV drama The Wire — are many and varied, as the Guardian article admits.

What it is oddly not-so-clear on, is how UK viewers are getting their hands on Breaking Bad, regardless. According to the story:

Unwilling to wait for a UK TV channel to buy the rights, fans have flocked to streaming sites like Netflix, which cruelly only gives you 15 seconds to switch off once an episode has finished before it boils up a teaspoon of the next one’.

The Guardian‘s coverage of Mad Men similarly painted an unlikely picture of UK consumers having to contain their frustrated desires until the latest season premiered on Sky Atlantic. A blog post extorted readers, ‘If you don’t have Sky Atlantic and are facing a long wait for the DVD to come out, there are ways to deal with colleagues who did watch it.’

The word — or words — that no one seems to be mentioning are as follows: bittorrent, filesharing and/or piracy.

In some circles, Sky Atlantic’s attempt to monopolise provision of high quality US drama has led it to becoming known as ‘the bittorrent channel’, with high profile ad campaigns only serving to remind some folk to get their trackers on.

Whilst it’s feasible that mainstream media outlets can’t be seen to endorse illegal behaviour, that shouldn’t prevent them reporting on it — or at least acknowledging that file-sharing exists as a media consumption behaviour.

Maybe it is the influence of their advertisers — many of whom are indeed mainstream broadcasters — that explains UK papers’ reticence around B********* or P*****B**, at least in the context of writing about what we as consumers are watching and where. Odd also that newspapers – still battling for relevancy in a weightless media world — should miss an opportunity to be ‘down with the kids’. As one commentator on The Guardian‘s Breaking Bad piece writes, ‘Oh look, the Guardian finally realised what people have been watching online for the last 3 years. Can’t wait for next year’s piece on Community.’ Denialism indeed.

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Nando Messias on ‘political dressing’

A guest post by performance artist, choreographer and academic Nando Messias.

Nando Messias is a longtime friend and collaborator of BST. We asked him for his thoughts on ‘political dressing’ and the other facets of queer theory that his work covers. The post is illustrated with pictures of Nando by BST co-editor Darrell Berry.

I have a PhD in queer theory and dance-theatre performance. Queer theory, in a nutshell, is concerned with anything that might be seen to be going against the so-called ‘normal.’ That is clearly a quite wide ranging field of study as it can encompass sexual behaviour, body image, social, ethnic, racial issues and so forth.

My research is concerned specifically with gender behaviour. To be even more specific, I look at the effeminate body or, in other words, male bodies that act, behave, move, walk in ways that might be described as ‘feminine’. It is, of course, incredibly more complex than it sounds as the words ‘male,’ ‘feminine’ and ‘body’ are all nuanced and, in a way, up for grabs, as it were. That is, what we consider feminine in the West in 2012 might be different than other cultures around the world and across history might have seen as feminine.

My work then involves analysing current understandings of male femininity and the social implications that might derive from a man who wears high heels and make up but who still identifies as a man (rather than as a drag queen or as a transwoman or a transvestite or a cross-dresser…). The choreography, especially of my PhD performance piece Sissy!, comes out of observations of the effeminate body and its social interactions with others.

Nando Messias Sissy

My work as a dancer-actor and choreographer has been hugely influenced by the work of Pina Bausch. I situate what I do within the tradition of dance-theatre and Bausch is the main figure in the world of dance-theatre.

I often work with Biño Sauitzvy, who is someone I admire profoundly artistically speaking. We did Sissy! together and also a stage version of Jean Genet’s novel Our Lady of the Flowers in which I play the transvestite Divine. Our next project is a duet in which we play Kazuo Ohno and Tatsumi Hijikata, the creators of Butoh. In terms of my modelling work, I always try to incorporate some of the queer ideology that guides my other work. I have been featured in W magazine as part of the Theo Adams Company. That job was shot by David Sims, styled by Camilla Nickerson and the make up was done by Linda Cantello. It was one of the most amazing fashion jobs I have ever done. Lorna Luft was photographed with Theo as part of that same story. Having her on set was super special for me considering that her mother was Judy Garland, the high-priestess of gay and queer culture. I have also been featured in Candy magazine (the first ever transgender-focused style magazine), Issue One and POP.

Part of my research and my work is this idea that I am unable to disguise my effeminacy. Not only am I unable to do it but, more to the point, I am unwilling to even try so I am only interested in modelling jobs that reflect that philosophy.

Nando Messias in Violence

I am interested in make up and garments traditionally associated with the feminine universe as an act of subversion of social norms. The term ‘feminine universe’ sounds really strange and hugely generalising to me as I read the previous sentence back. It makes it sound like there is a completely different universe out there that is totally detached from anything else. But I suppose you know what I mean. I am talking about lipstick, high heels, dresses and so on. Generally speaking, I use these not in order to make me look like a woman. I am not interested in ‘passing’ as a woman, although I have occasionally done that as well. Rather than ‘passing,’ I am more interested in reaching for the things (objects, garments, accessories, perfume, nail varnish, etc.) that have conventionally been denied me. I am interested in blurring the lines.

I would not define myself as a drag queen but would not object to being called a drag queen either. I think there is some contempt for the term ‘drag queen,’ especially within gay/queer circles that I actively want to avoid. It is somewhat analogous to what I identify in mainstream society as the contempt for the feminine. My appropriation of these signifiers is, to me, a political act.

Bette Bourne talks about political dressing. I like that term. I like that idea. I use these signifiers of femininity not only in my work but also in my daily life. I have my nails painted, I wear lipstick, I wear heels when I go out. I enjoy dressing up. I am always a lit bit shocked by how much this can push people’s buttons. Most people like clear lines. They like a man to look like a man and a woman to look like a woman, whatever that might mean. Going back to the contempt for femininity I was talking about earlier, I think it is still more easily accepted in today’s society for a woman to dress in what we traditionally associate with elements belonging to the masculine wardrobe. In other words, a woman with a gamine haircut, wearing a suit, tie and brogues is not that outrageous anymore even though, as we very well know, some suffragettes were arrested for the simple act of wearing trousers. But Yves Saint Laurent made it chic for women to wear a tuxedo back in the 70s. A man wearing a dress or heels or make up, however, is still largely ridiculed.

I wonder what that is all about. Something to do with male and masculinity representing power and the idea of a man wanting to relinquish that power being confounding.

Nando Messias
I personally think the increased visibility of transgender and transexual models in fashion is progress even though I think there is still much work to be done. There is a lesson to be learned from history. If we think about the reality of a different minority group, namely models of colour, than we can really see how far from acceptance we still are. The first black model to appear on the cover of Vogue was Beverley Johnson in 1974. I think British Vogue got there first even though there were rumours she was covering most of her face in order to hide her (ethnic-looking) nose and mouth… Britain has always been on the forefront of equality in many aspects, I think. But back to the reality of black models in fashion today… Only this last week there was an article on the Sunday Times that talked about Philip Treacy’s all black model cast for his latest show at London Fashion Week. It relates how non-Caucasian faces in fashion are still exceptions, how there are still very few spaces for ethnic minorities despite the likes of Beverley Johnson, Beverley Peele, Iman, Naomi, Alek Wek, Joan Smalls, Jourdan Dunn, etc. having made it somewhat more acceptable. Why is this still an issue 28 years after the first black model made history by appearing on the cover of a mainstream fashion magazine?

Perhaps things haven’t moved that far forward. The reality for transgender and transsexual models is, realistically speaking, even tougher, I should think. We have Andrej Pejic and Lea T, who are, by the way, both amazing!!! but that is it, really, in terms of recognisable faces (and names) in fashion. And even these two examples are very much confined to a specific niche of the fashion market, which is, itself, already very niche and elitist. It is very few designers who are brave enough to use these transgender and transsexual models. From the top of my head, I can only think of Riccardo Tisci at Givenchy and Jean Paul Gaultier. How long will it be before a transgender or transsexual model makes the cover of Vogue? And then after that, what will be the next taboo to be tackled?

Nando Messias in Sissy

Basically, and really generally speaking, ‘normal’ is a made-up concept. Its invention has been traced back to the 1800s and the Victorian obsession with classifying things. It is a term connected to the birth of statistics, where what the majority of us does becomes accepted as the norm. The problem than becomes what is done to those of us who fall outside the parameters of normal. This is when it starts to get complicated and we, as a society, begin to create categories of abnormality such as mental (and physical) disease and criminality, which are then associated with behaviours that prior to the invention of ‘normality’ were not necessarily seen as such.

There is another important question to be asked here: who determines what is normal and what is not normal? It is all very much associated with white male supremacy, where being white, heterosexual, masculine-looking and masculine-acting (if you’re a man), feminine-looking and feminine-acting (if you’re a woman), thin, healthy, financially-solvent, not too tall but not too short and so on and so forth. Normal changes and evolves as we change and evolve as a society. It is not a fixed concept. Queer theory evolved as a way to challenge this way of thinking, it offers an alternative way to think about these categories. In what regards sexology, for instance, why have ninetheen-century scientists decided to categorise the whole of humankind according to whom they have sex with? If with someone of the same sex as you: homosexual. If with someone of a different sex: heterosexual. Why not classify people according to how often they have sex or where they prefer to have sex or whatever other random category? It has clearly to do with Judeo-Christian values of marriage and family but also with how the state controls its subjects.

No human being falls completely within the boundaries of normal.
We all have our idiosyncracies. Human behaviour is more fluid than normal allows room for.

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Talking about ‘Err’

An interview with artist Jeremy Hutchison.

‘Err’ is an installation of deliberately broken prototypes conceived by Jeremy Hutchison. We caught up with him to discuss the project.

BST: How did the idea for Err come about?

JH:I came across an article about the Apple Macintosh factory in China. Consumer hunger for iPads had reached such an extent that factory employees were throwing themselves off the roof. Life on the assembly line had become devastating. One worker said ‘sometimes he would deliberately drop something on the ground so that he could have a few seconds of rest while picking it up.’

That’s an extraordinary idea. A deliberate error is completely illogical. Which is what makes it fundamentally human. So I wanted to know what would happen if you extended this human gesture, and inserted nonsense into the smooth logic of a hyper-efficient globalised machine. What if you commissioned workers to produce errors, intentionally? What is an intentional error?

What were the reactions from the manufacturers?

Well, there was a lot of feedback… a lot of confusion. The workers in the Indian comb factory fell about laughing when their boss asked them to make a dysfunctional comb: ‘everyone thought I have gone mad or mis-read your enquiry as everyone in the world strives to improve not to create error.’

But the confusion wasn’t limited to the factories: it continued through the customs ports. A factory in Pakistan agreed to make me an incorrect football. The patches were in the wrong places, the stitching was terrible, the bladder poured out. It was lovely.

But I got a frantic call in the middle of the night: my contact Waleed was at the customs port. The authorities had seized the ball. When he explained than an Englishman had ordered a ball with errors, all hell broke loose. They said it was illegal to fabricate incorrect products, and they would revoke his company’s trading licence. I explained that this product wasn’t incorrect since it was exactly what I’d ordered. And it wasn’t actually a football. Days passed: nothing. Lost in the bureaucracy of Pakistani customs, I eventually got through to the high commissioner in Islamabad.

She was very apologetic, and explained that 20kg of heroin had recently passed under the radar at Sialkot customs. So everyone was feeling a bit paranoid. She issued a document stating that ‘the sculpture/artwork looks like a football but in fact is not a football and primarily this object is not for using as a football but is an artwork.’ But it was too late: someone had destroyed the ball, and it disappeared without a trace. I never quite found out who.

But Waleed and I are still friends.

The project seems as much (if not more) about the personalities of the makers than the objects themselves. Did you keep in touch with any of them or have any of the makers actually seen the work?

Yes, absolutely. Waleed sends me photos of his baby son, Mohammed. The man who made the ladder endlessly asks when we can make another projects. The project was about identifying a curious, human element within a faceless industrial mechanism. Factories normally take orders of ten thousand – not one. And certainly not one with an error. So I guess it came down to finding people who were willing to engage with an absurd line of thinking – who wanted to see what would happen. I made lots of friends, and exchanged an awful lot of emoticons.

I sent all my contacts documentation of the installed work. But I never told them it was art: it was research. The word ‘art’ can be unhelpful: it seems to answer the question I’m trying to set up.

What was the fastest turnaround time? 

None of them took less than a month – some took almost four.

Which is your favourite piece and why?

Hmm.. maybe the teapot. Primarily because it came the closest to being a major disappointment. I’d communicated for months with the factory, waking up at 5am to talk over Skype. They’d assured me that Mr Luo (their factory worker) had really gone to town on it, and that I should expect something paradigm-shifting.

When it arrived, I was giddy with excitement. I was expecting the perfect conundrum. I tore open the box, and there it was: a normal teapot. Unblemished… flawless… immaculate.

I felt sick, then enraged. I took it to the sink… and found I couldn’t get the lid off. Which really cracked me up. I love the little teapot, it’s quietly terrifying: the most insidious of all the objects. It looks like something you know, but somehow it’s all wrong. Every time I’ve shown it in galleries, people always twiddle the lid, like they really want it to be stuck.

Has anyone expressed interest in either buying or reproducing commercially any of the items? Are you planning to develop the concept, maybe produce multiples?

Yes to both. At the end of this year, the project will regurgitate in a completely new form: as a luxury brand [Jeremy Hutchison's first solo show opens at Paradise Row Gallery on December 4th 2012]. The objects will be swamped by an immaculate, glossy surface – a world of panelled interiors, velvet cushions and vacant supermodels. This is obviously the wrong thing to do with this project. Which is why I’m interested in it.

The luxury market swims in an ether of dysfunctionality. It moves beyond reason, logic and resolution. It wanders away from sense in favour of the hermetic, unreadable poetry of capitalism. So this brand will celebrate this economy: pushing the levers of capitalism as far as they go, plunging absurdity into the marketplace. It’s the same idiotic logic that I performed on the factory floor, now performed in marketing communication. So I’m interested to see what will happen.


Are any of the items trademarked or patented and if so who owns the trademark – you or the manufacturer/maker? [we recognise that many are 'interventions' of generic items but we live in an era where people sell teapots as lampshades]

The short answer is no: none of these products are patented. But your question really points to the problematic question of authorship. The workers designed the objects, but under a premise that I designed. So who, ultimately, is the author? I’d prefer to leave that question hanging dangerously open; the unsettling questions are the ones I find most interesting. They are the reason I make art.

AliBaba has collapsed the manufacturing system – do you think this is a good or a bad thing?

I think it’s a magnificent thing for the global economy, and a magnificently bad thing for human consciousness.

I think that individual freedom is enhanced by an awareness of socio-economic constructions; of the mechanisms that govern our daily existence. In other words, if we know how things came into being, we can understand how things are. Its a question of visibility. So as these mechanisms become increasingly invisible, I think we understand less about them, and less about each other. So I designed this project to expose the industrial processes that AliBaba has made a business of hiding. I wanted to show where things come from. What factory workers think about. How they feel about eating, living and sleeping in their factories.

Ultimately, I wanted to expose the potential for chaos in global mass-production. We are designing increasingly efficient technologies to become more productive, better organised. To disguise errancy and confusion. But I feel like the human mind is incredibly chaotic – and beautifully so. So I like reminding myself that things don’t always fit into 1s and 0s. That reality in 2012 is temporary, fabricated, arbitrary. That it won’t always be like this. And that nothing, objectively, makes sense.

How has your background in commercial art (or advertising as it’s otherwise known ;-0) informed your work?

[Full disclosure: BST editors Anne-Fay and Darrell met Jeremy at ad agency HHCL where he was undertaking a WPP Fellowship.] To begin with, I learnt how contemporary myths are made. I learnt how to present arbitrary modes of rationality as if they made perfect sense. I learnt that so long as the logo is correctly placed, and the models are well-lit, then you can make just about anything sound convincing. Working in advertising was rather like working in the upper management of a well-run religion.

And advertising taught me a lot about humour. It understands that humour is the most disruptive tool in the box. There’s a line in Singing in the Rain: ‘Just slip on a banana peel / The world’s at your feet’. Basically, provided that you make people laugh, you can perform radical gestures and people will praise you for them. But if you protest in the streets with horns and banners, people will get scared and label you all sorts of bad things.

Can you tell us a bit about your next project?

Well, I’m currently examining one of the functions of an artwork. On a certain level, I think a work of art can be read as an advertising vehicle for the artist’s brand. Look at Damian Hirst’s diamond skull. Or Bas Jan Ader’s shipwreck. The success of an artwork could be judged by the myth it spins around its author. So I’ve outsourced my creative process to ad agencies (mythmakers) across the globe: W&K, BBH, Y&R, Start JG, Code&Logic. The agencies are generating the ideas, I’m executing the works. It’s an absurd premise – idiotic perhaps – but not cynical. You could say that everything we do advertises us: every action inspires some reaction. Anyway, it’s all in the pipeline…

Finally, are there any questions you wished we’d asked, and if so what are they? 

Well, you didn’t ask me about the exploitation that Err actually performs – people rarely do. Lurking in the depths of this project, buried beneath the humour, chaos and imagination, I think there’s something quite sinister going on. Its an extension of a very old colonial narrative: white British male brings freedom to less-privileged, less-educated people all over the world – but only on his terms… And that’s why I like the teapot with the lid stuck down. Because it says, quite clearly: fuck you.

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Shiny things #2

Items of interest from around and about …

Femtech – Genevieve Bell’s research shows that (older) women are now tech’s lead adopters.

‘More Olympics cash in tie in nonsense’ – Douglas Murphy’s latest take down of London2012.

Mean Streets no more – an analysis of how NYC radically reduced its crime rate.

And from the old NYC … performance art legend Penny Arcade talks to Run-Riot about bringing her ‘sex and censorship’ show Bitch! Dyke! Faghag! Whore! to the West End.

An anecdote to twee – vandalised vintage crockery from TrixieDelicious on Etsy (as keenly recommended by Regretsy).

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bush the ‘blink’ president

Just like he did with ‘The Tipping Point’, Malcolm Gladwell seems have successfully caught the mainstream imagination with Blink – his thesis on the power of non analytical thought. Here, Time Magazine muses on how Bush is the ‘blink’ president

bush blink.jpg

Joe Klein writes in Time:

“Bush is the ultimate "Blink" President, to use author Malcolm Gladwell’s catchy term, and recent title, for instantaneous, subconscious decision making.

The slogan on Gladwell’s book jacket “Don’t Think?Blink!” is a perfect mantra for an attention- deficit-disordered society, and an apt description of the electric jolt Bush has brought to politics and policy. It certainly was the subtext of the 2004 presidential campaign: Kerry’s thinking seemed tortured, paralytic; Bush’s blinking seemed strong and decisive.”

Klein qualifies his argument:

“Gladwell argues that blinking is best when it is reinforced by a lifetime of study and expertise. Bush’s blinks come in two basic varieties: judgments about people and about broad policy”

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dotcom’s back #3

Apple not so cuddly after all as it sues for ownership of itunes.co.uk domain name

The Guardian reports:

A young internet entrepreneur from London is launching a legal battle against Apple Computer to try to overturn a ruling on the ownership of a website address. Benjamin Cohen, 22, is applying to the high court for a judicial review of his dispute with Apple over the address itunes.co.uk. Mr Cohen registered the name in November 2000

The full story is here

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Take Back tv

Michael Franti (“television: drug of a nation”) is back with his Gil Scott Heron schtick

Last time round he was railing against the MTV generation. this time it’s a little more pertinent… Take Back TV bills itself as:

A celebration for INdTV, a new TV network that will empower viewers to help create the TV they want to watch

Take back TV

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It’s the content not the source

Dotcom’s back #3 – everyone’s paying attention to Wired again

Full story here

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tivo kills off the water cooler effect

USA Today reports …

“When Los Angeles architect Anthony Poon, 41, hears people in his office start to talk about the latest episode of The O.C. or American Idol, he tells them to pipe down. He likes to record the shows and watch them in a batch later on, and he doesn’t want anything spoiled”

Full report here.

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